‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet... he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers…’ (Malachi 3:23,24)
Elijah is the herald of Redemption, the Proclaimer of the advent of Messiah, Prince of Peace. But why does he first turn the hearts of the fathers to the children? Would not the interests of our ancient tradition be better served by his first turning the hearts of the children back to the fathers? Allow me to interpret this verse on the basis of a riveting experience that happened to me about 35 years ago, some five years before my aliya (immigration) to Efrat, which explained to me the real meaning of the initial stages of Redemption which is happening before our eyes.
Our still-American family was spending each summer on Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, where I was rabbi-scholar in residence. There was a kibbutz member who prayed in the same row as my learned friend Yehuda Noiman and me in the kibbutz synagogue. His father, who had lived in Kfar Hassidim near Haifa, died and I joined a delegation from the kibbutz to attend the funeral. The funeral cortege was to proceed from the yeshiva in Kfar Hassidim to the cemetery nearby, and the kibbutzniks arrived while the tahara, the purification of the body, was taking place inside the yeshiva.
Two distinct groups were now waiting for the body to be brought out and for the eulogies to begin: the kibbutzniks, dressed in shorts, colored short-sleeved shirts and sandals; and the yeshiva students garbed in black pants and white shirts. It was as if the two groups had an invisible mehitza (barrier) between them.
The rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Mishkovsky, came out, viewed the assembly from the higher yeshiva portico, and seemed to have noticed my friend Yehuda. He addressed him in Yiddish, “Yudke? Yudke iluy?” (Yudke is a Yiddish affectionate diminutive for Yehuda; iluy is Hebrew for prodigy.) Yehuda, whom I knew as a rather shy and humble individual, turned red, blushed deeply and responded in Hebrew, “Yes, Reb Elya, that’s what they called me in the yeshiva of Rav Shach in Petah Tikva, where we studied together.”
The rosh yeshiva’s eyes narrowed. He asked in Yiddish, “But what happened to you? I know you left the yeshiva, but how did Rav Shach allow you to leave? You, too, could have been a rosh yeshiva.”
Yehuda answered in Hebrew, and by this time everyone from both groups was listening to the conversation intently. “Rav Shach sent me many letters urging me to stay.”
Reb Elya, the rosh yeshiva, seemed to rise to his full height, literally looking down at my friend, and said strongly (but not harshly) in Yiddish, perhaps more to his students than to my friend: “And those letters of our rebbe will serve as a prosecuting attorney when you stand before the throne of God after 120 years.”
I felt very sorry for Yehuda. I didn’t think my laidback, self-effacing friend would give any answer at all. But he responded immediately, decisively and in Hebrew, “And the kibbutz that I helped build, and the guns that I used in the wars that I fought, and the souls of many Israeli Jews whose lives I protected – they will be my defense attorneys. And they will win the day and exonerate me before God.”
The rosh yeshiva took a step backward. He realized that he had lost that first round and apparently decided not to continue the debate. Again he said in Yiddish, but this time with a smile on his face and in his voice, “Bist nuch di zelbe Yudke, di zelbe iluy [You remained the same Yudke, the same prodigy].”
My friend didn’t let it rest. He responded in Hebrew, “No, Reb Elya, I didn’t remain the same Yudke that I was in the yeshiva. I changed. I saw the changes in history. I saw what our generation demanded. I think I even saw what God expected of me. I looked around at the ravages of the Holocaust. I understood that our era demanded that the kibbutz, and the battlegrounds of war, had to serve as the infrastructure for the establishment of the Jewish state, the first Jewish state in close to 2,000 years. I didn’t remain the same because Jewish history didn’t remain the same. You remained the same. You didn’t change.”
The funeral began. But obviously the encounter was very important to me, and all I could think of was the first commandment in the Torah, “Hahodesh hazeh lachem Rosh Hodashim – This renewal of the moon shall be for you a festival of the Beginning of the Months” (Exodus 12:2). Look at the moon, mark the changes of the moon, praise the God of nature who brings forth the bright sliver of the new moon from a blackened, darkened sky, and realize that our God is a God of change and renewal, that our God wants us to change as times change, as needs change, as history changes.
“Binu shnot dor vador, Understand the changes in each generation” (Deuteronomy 32:7).
God is the God of history. “I will be what I will be, Ye Ho Va.” He will bring about change. “The old must be renewed the new must be sanctified.” That’s what Rav Kook taught. That’s what Yehuda Noiman was expressing.
Yehuda and his generation of young religious Zionists saw the necessity of change, of exiting from Exile and entering into the new domain of Israel reborn. The fathers of the old-world yeshivot must embrace and sanctify their Zionist children and our renewed Jewish State, and all of its institutions. Shabbat shalom and Pessah sameah Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone institutions and the chief rabbi of Efrat. His acclaimed series of parsha commentary,
Torah Lights, is available from Maggid Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.